#1 Cochran evolves to customer expectations, pushing others to follow suit

Others in the market have followed #1 Cochran’s decision, but Cochran says they teetered over the decision before taking the risk. The response, however, was more resounding than anticipated in terms of sales and positive feedback.

In the time since, the company has evaluated the methodology of its pricing to determine more scientific ways to update it.

“To us, it’s much like a stock market. People want to buy several ounces of gold, there’s a price today, and in a week the price is going to be maybe a little higher or a little lower,” he says. “Our products are really no different than that. There’s a price on a car and based on what happens in the demand of those products, they can get a little bit more valuable or a little less valuable.”

The key is to closely monitor and get the price as reflective of the market as it can. The data needs to support the logic.

“When somebody comes in and says, ‘Why is this this?’ We want to be able to share what the thinking is behind why that is,” Cochran says. “When it comes to buying a car, people do a lot of research — most people anyway — and being tuned in to the data helps support the credibility in the offer.”

While upfront vehicle pricing was the biggest market-leading initiative, #1 Cochran also began using iPads in the service lane and will pilot the same technology in the showrooms this year. Cochran says it’s all part of a more consultative approach to selling.

What a customer wants

Customers today want flexibility. Like any other retail, some people want full service, while others want to do more on their own. Companies need to be able to provide both.

That’s something #1 Cochran needs to continue to work on: the speed of the transaction. Some people don’t want to take three or four hours to buy a car, which actually can make salespeople more productive, Cochran says.

“That doesn’t mean everybody needs to be in a hurry. If people want to come in and take their time and spend all day, we’re happy to have them all day,” he says. “But that is something we hear from customers, is ‘How can I get in and out more quickly? I know what I want. I’ve done my research. This is what I want. I understand what the price is. Let me just get in and out.’”

With a plethora of administrative needs and paperwork that customers need to get through, Cochran says getting that more synced is a big initiative.

Knowing what your customers want is important. Cochran says #1 Cochran uses data and surveys from manufacturers and independent parties like J.D. Power. However, the company doesn’t do any surveying itself.

“One thing that we’re sensitive to is over-surveying. I think a lot of people are like, ‘Please don’t give me another survey,’” he says

Cochran says when salespeople and sales managers are focused on developing customer relationships, they can provide feedback on what’s working and what needs to be refined more.

It’s the responsibility of the organization’s leadership to stay attuned to the people in the customer-interfacing positions and what they’re hearing and learning.

Developing skills

Changed customer expectations and sales transactions also require different employee skills.

“Being candid about it, within the automotive industry, there were more people that fit a profile of a strong negotiator versus somebody that was just consumed with customer care,” Cochran says of the salesperson profile from 20 years ago.

As more factual data is available, the different viewpoints on what a vehicle is worth are getting closer. The adage, “I’m a great salesperson and I’m going to save you a bunch of money versus what anybody else can do,” isn’t as easy to deliver today.

Cochran says it’s more important for salespeople and sales managers to connect, engage and create a great experience that turns into a long-term relationship.

In fact, people coming into the business don’t really want to negotiate, he says. They want to get excited about the product they’re selling, and not go through the back and forth the process used to entail.